TANNING, Step-by-Step

Introduction to Tanning
Feel free to print the instructions  

Over the past several years there have been several tanning products introduced to the taxidermy market. Initially these products were claimed to be a miracle short cut to the tanning process. Instructions were to skin, salt and paint on these miracle tanning creams, let dry, re-soak and mount in the future. The bottom line is that these products did not work as stated and a multitude of problems developed. The directions for use of these products have changed and currently recommend the same steps as the basic tanning procedure that professional tanners have used for years. The fact is that you are buying tanning oils and other products at a very inflated price. If you are following the basic tanning procedure of formic acid, salt and alum tan, then simply use professional tanning oils that are much cheaper than the products now being sold.

With this in mind, we decided to look into the possibility of offering a line of the same products and procedures that professional tanners use.  With this system you will have the same quality as your present tan, but at a reduced cost of materials. By purchasing these materials directly, we have been able to significantly reduce the cost to the taxidermist who wants to tan his own skins.

I have compiled step by step instructions for the use of these products. The following steps should be followed for the tanning of capes and skins to be mounted. We recommend that skins to be rugged, should be sent to a professional tanner due to the equipment necessary to properly finish dry tanned skins. Also individual results are determined by the individuals ability to shave or thin the skin, which is essential for good stretch in the finished product.


Explanation of Products Available

PTS-Tanning Oil—This is a professional quality tanning oil to be used on any cape or skin to be mounted. Oil should be used at or slightly above room temperature. The key to a properly oiled cape is the timing after the tanning bath and the oiling of the cape.  After removing the cape from the alum bath, drain the skin and allow the flesh side to dry to a thirsty condition. You want the skin to act like a sponge and suck the oil  into the leather.

PTS-Degreaser–Degreasing of certain skins is a requirement for good results. Bears and most fur bearing animals must be degreased or the fur will be difficult to dry and fluff. Water  must be 80 degrees for proper degreasing. 80 degrees for proper degreasing.

PTS-Formic Acid–A strong corrosive material that is used in tanning formulas. Formic acid should be treated with a great deal of care. Protect your skin and eyes at all times and never put in a metal container.

PTS-Citric Acid–A much safer alternative to formic acid for the pickle bath.   Results are the same, but you eliminate the hazards.

PTS-PH-Up–The acidity of tanning baths must be monitored for best results. PH-Up should be used to raise the acidity level.

PTS-Alum– A low iron aluminum sulfate used in the tanning bath.  Many taxidermist use the new Lutan-F in place of Alum.

PTS-Ph-Paper–Necessary to test PH of tanning baths.


STEP-1 skin and remove all the fat and meat on the skin. Using non iodized salt, salt and rub into the flesh side of the skin. Be very careful not to omit areas around the eyes and ears. Roll the skin up with the head inside and place on a slanted board so the juices may drain out and away from the skin. Let drain for 24 hours, open, shake off wet salt and re-salt. Lay skin flat so as to allow it to dry. The next skin can be placed on top and let dry for 3 to 5 days.

STEP-2   Re-hydrate skin in a pickle solution. This step prepares the skin for the tan bath and sets the hair. Mix

        20cc Formic Acid   or   3 ounces of Citric acid per gallon Water.  Note:  use hot water to dissolve the citric acid crystals.  Safety Acid may also be used.

            Check PH and adjust if necessary to a level of 2. Raise Ph by adding water, lower by adding  formic acid. Let skin soak overnight, agitate frequently and check PH. Soak until thoroughly re-hydrated. MAINTAIN PH OF 2.

Always maintain a PH of 2. At this level bacteria can not grow so no additional bactericide is needed or necessary.

STEP-3  Remove and drain skin. Thin down thick spots usually found on the forehead and back of neck. The thinning of these thick spots will allow the skin to more readily accept the tan.

STEP-4  Degrease the skin of bears, boars and furbearers at this time.  Many taxidermist also degrease deer to   achieve a more attractive skin.  Mix

                    15cc PTS-Degreaser
1 gallon of water

Into warm water (80 F). Water must be eighty degrees for the degreaser to work properly. Stir skin frequently for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and wash skin in clean water, again the water must be 80 degrees. Remove and drain skin.

STEP-5 Tanning Bath -Mix the following

1 gallon of water
1/2 lb of salt
3/4 lb of PTS-Alum

Soak skin for 3 to 5 days with the flesh side down until the skin is white with no hard spots. Agitate the skin as frequently as possible. NOTE: Some taxidermist skip this step saying they get better stretch by doing so.

STEP-6  Shave the skin as thin as desired.. The skin should have a bluish look from the flesh side. Shaving will determine the amount of stretch available, however shaving the skin too thin will result in a weak leather with little strength..

STEP-7 Using the tanning solution used in step 5, add PH-Plus until the PH is at 4. Soak the skin in the solution for 24 hours.

STEP-8 Drain the skin until skin appears to be Thirsty. Apply tanning oil at room temperature and fold up for 24 hours. A second coat is optional.

STEP-9 After absorbing oil for 24 hours, drum the skin in PTS-Tanners Saw Dust for 8 to 10 minutes. If no tumbler is available, wash cape in lukewarm water with mild liquid detergent, such as Ivory. Blow skin out with compressed air. Wash cape in warm soap and water, rinse in clear water, drain and mount or freeze.


Every skin seems to behave a little different and results can vary slightly when using the same procedures. However, the key to a good tan with excellent stretch is dependant upon:

  • Proper thinning of the skin

  • Applying tanning oil when skin is thirsty.   A  dripping  wet skin will not absorb the oil.

  • Use a wire wheel to flesh small game skins.

  • Always degrease all fur bearing small game  and bear/boar. Many taxidermists like to degrease whitetail deer to achieve  a better feel.